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Santa Maria Tri-Tip

by Brad Prose

Inspired by the west coast vibes of California, my personal spin on regional flavors.

santa maria tri-tip

There’s a deep history on the west coast for Santa Maria tri-tip, so popular they invented a grill to perfect it. This steak is a hidden gem, the style unknown to many, accessible to few. The tri-tips are bursting with flavor and juice, sliced thin and served with beans, salsa, on grilled bread.

Through my journey researching the authentic methods and flavors for Santa Maria tri-tip, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s quite a bit of variation: rubs, seasonings, basting with flavors, spraying with flavors, sauces, etc. This is just proof that anything “traditional” can and will adapt over time.

What is authentic Santa Maria Tri-tip?

This crescent-shaped steak is grilled over red oak, seasoned lightly, and sliced thin once medium-rare. The sandwiches are composed of grilled garlic bread, the steak, and topped with their own regional Santa Maria savory salsa. There are many variations of adding beans, leafy lettuce, sauces, even crispy potatoes.

Does that mean what you’re finding today is the 100% go-to authentic Santa Maria expectation? NOPE. My food is inspired by the style, adapted with flavors and methods that I like to use. There are authentic Santa Maria BBQ sources at the bottom right before the recipe!

santa maria tri-tip searing on the grill

What makes Santa Maria Tri-tip unique?

Glad you asked!

FLAVORS. That’s the biggest difference. Their steaks taste like steak, it doesn’t taste like a steak smothered in BBQ rub. Minimal ingredients are used for the seasoning, and the basting heightens the flavors even more. You end up with a bright, charcoal flavor on the outside, the inside remains incredibly beefy.

You need a salsa!

Check out the salsa MADE just for this Tri-tip, my Fire Roasted Santa Maria Salsa.

You can certainly make your own rub, and I’m providing the recipe for that. There are quite a few delicious seasonings already out there that taste great – frankly I would consider them if you don’t want to make your own.

Pappy’s Seasoning is highly rated, that’s because it’s freaking delicious. Disclaimer: They sent me a bottle of their seasoning to test – surprised, I loved it. This suggestion is not sponsored by Pappy’s in any shape, I’m just a legit fan.

tri-tip with a bite of salsa
Tri-tip coming at you with some salsa!

Cooking Method:

I’m choosing to reverse-sear this tri-tip. Provided below are all of the steps for reverse-searing it, however check out this in-depth guide on Reverse Seared Tri-Tip Steaks that will give you plenty of extra details.

The traditional way is to grill it hot and fast over red oak. I don’t have a personal supply of it, so I am using a combination of Pecan and Hickory.

Helpful Sources:

There was a lot of research that went into testing the authentic flavors, and coming up with my style. I wanted to share some of those sources that might be inspiring for you too.

tri-tip dinner with salsa
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santa maria tri-tip dinner

Santa Maria Tri-Tip

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 45
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 68 1x
  • Category: steak
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: BBQ

Description

This delicious, regional style of beef is simple and exciting. Santa Maria Tri-tip is a quick recipe with bright and charred flavors coming together.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 tri-tip steak (23 lb)
  • 3 Tbsp Pappy’s Original Seasoning OR the following:
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne (or other chile powder)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds, ground (optional)

Baste

  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix all of the ingredients for the tri-tip seasoning. Rub the seasoning into the meat about an hour before you plan to cook. Place the tri-tip in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients for the baste. Doing this ahead of time allows the flavors to meld together.
  3. Remove the steak from the fridge 30 minutes before you light the grill or smoker. 
  4. Grilling: Set up the grill for 2-zone cooking, about 250°F. Place the tri-tip on the cooler side of the grill, flipping every 30 minutes, until the internal temperature is about 115-118°F.
  5. Smoking: Set up your smoker for 225°F. Smoke the tri-tip until the internal temperature is about 115-118°F.
  6. Remove the tri-tip and let it rest while you turn up the heat of your grill to at least 450°F. Sear the steak for 2-3 minutes per side, flipping as needed. Once the crust has formed, use a silicone brush or mop and baste the steak gently. Be careful of flareups. Continue to sear the steak for about 60 seconds each side, flipping and basting. Check the temperature and remove steak between 130-135°F (medium rare). Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Notes

Taste the seasoning before you put it on the tri-tip and adjust.  The tri-tip might need additional salt if it’s above 3 lbs, just be aware.

Keywords: tri-tip steak, bbq

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